• Unmanned vehicle demonstration showcases leap-ahead technology

    VIP's watched the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System demonstration from the top of a building in the BOAZ Military Operations in Urban Terrain training site at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo by Bruce J. Huffman)

     

    By Bruce J. Huffman, TARDEC Public Affairs

     

    DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. (March 21, 2014) — Working closely with Lockheed Martin and a conglomeration of Army technology, acquisition and user community stakeholders, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center successfully demonstrated an unmanned military convoy Jan. 14 at Fort Hood, Texas.

    From a rooftop in the Fort Hood training area, military and industry VIPs saw firsthand how the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System, or AMAS, enabled two driverless Palletized Loading System prime movers and an M915 tractor trailer truck to seamlessly interact with a manned Humvee gun truck escort. The convoy negotiated oncoming traffic, followed rules of the road, recognized and avoided pedestrians and various obstacles, and then used intelligence and decision-making abilities to re-route their direction through a maze of test areas to complete both complex urban and rural line haul missions.

    As the ground systems expert within the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, TARDEC develops, integrates and sustains the right technology solutions to address ever-changing threats and shifts in strategic, technological and fiscal environments. Flexibility and adaptability are vital to future systems, and AMAS is designed to provide a wide range of military vehicle platforms with optionally-manned capabilities that will increase safety and provide the warfighter with additional flexibility.

    “We’re not looking to replace Soldiers with robots. It’s about augmenting and increasing capability,” said Col. Chris Cross, chief of Science and Technology at the Army Capabilities Integration Center.

    During the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System demo, VIP's saw autonomous vehicles negotiate live traffic, follow the rules of the road, recognize pedestrians and avoid various obstacles in both urban and rural test areas. (Photo by Bruce J. Huffman)

    Equipped with GPS, Light Detecting and Ranging systems, known as LIDAR, Automotive radar, a host of sensors and other high-tech hardware and software components, the common appliqué kit’s intelligence and autonomous decision-making abilities can be installed in practically any military vehicle, transforming an ordinary vehicle into an optionally manned version.

    AMAS can also keep personnel out of harm’s way and provide Soldiers on manned missions with increased situational awareness and other safety benefits. For instance, AMAS also features collision mitigation braking, lane-keeping assist and a roll-over warning system, electronic stability control and adaptive cruise control. During manned missions, these additional safety features could theoretically increase Soldier performance. The robotic mode frees up the vehicle crew to more closely watch for enemy threats, while still leaving them the option of manually taking control of the vehicle when necessary.

    “The AMAS hardware and software performed exactly as designed and dealt successfully with all of the real-world obstacles that a real-world convoy would encounter,” said AMAS Program Manager David Simon, with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

    A Soldier from 3rd Cavalry Regiment programs an autonomous convoy using the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System. (Photo by Bruce J. Huffman)

    AMAS development aligns with Army goals for the Future Force. At an Association of the United States Army breakfast in Arlington, Va., Jan. 23, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno talked about the Army Modernization Strategy and the difficult decisions ahead.

    “What is that leap-ahead technology that we need that could make a real difference for our Soldiers on the ground?” Odierno asked. “What is the technology that allows us to decrease the weight so we can be more expeditionary? I need tactical mobility for the future. We need to move towards mobility and try to determine how we sustain survivability while increasing mobility.”

    In his just-released CSA Strategic Priorities, Odierno added that we must prioritize Soldier-centered modernization and procurement of proven technologies so that Soldiers have the best weapons, equipment and protection to accomplish the mission.

    Another AMAS demonstration with more vehicles and more complex notional scenarios is scheduled for later this year.

    “We are very happy with the results, but the AMAS must undergo more testing before it becomes deployable,” said TARDEC AMAS Lead Engineer Bernard Theisen.

    “The vehicles and systems are replaceable, but nothing can replace the life of a Soldier. These systems keep Soldiers safe and make them more efficient,” he said.

    TARDEC is the ground systems expert within RDECOM. It provides engineering and scientific expertise for Department of Defense manned and autonomy-enabled ground systems and ground support systems; serves as the nation’s laboratory for advanced military automotive technology; and provides leadership for the Army’s advanced Science and Technology research, demonstration, development and full life cycle engineering efforts.

    The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center and Lockheed Martin partnered with U.S. Central Command, Army Capabilities Integration Center, Combined Arms Support Command, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, to demonstrate an autonomy-enabled technology that can help distance our warfighters from dangerous threats during convoy operations. On Jan. 14, 2014, they demonstrated the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System and conducted an autonomous convoy at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo by Glenn Helm, Lockheed Martin)

    ABOUT TARDEC

    TARDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

    TARDEC is also a TACOM Life Cycle Management Command partner. In this capacity, it is responsible for critical technology functions within the “acquisition — logistics — technology” system life-cycle model, including: technology maturation and integration; technology subject-matter expertise; systems-level engineering analysis; and systems engineering.

    TARDEC provides engineering support for more than 2,800 Army systems and many of the Army’s and DoD’s top joint development programs. The organization is responsible for maximizing the research, development, transition and sustainment of technologies and integration across ground systems.

    RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC delivers it.


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  • Army fuel reformation looks to increase efficiency, save lives

    RDECOM CERDEC hosts defense partners for a demo of the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell 10 kW power unit. It exhibits high efficiency, a low acoustic signature, a low visible signature, and weighs less than the Army’s current 10 kW Tactical Quiet Generator Set. (U.S. Army CERDEC Photo/ Allison Barrow)

    By Allison Barrow and Joyce Brayboy

     

    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Fuel is the second largest transported item in the field next to water. As a result, fuel truck convoys that deliver fuel are vulnerable to enemy attacks, which have resulted in loss of money, time and lives.

    To combat this problem, scientists and engineers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command are working to lessen the reliance on fuel truck convoys by reducing the amount of military fuel, called jet propellant 8, or JP-8, the Army needs in theater and improving the efficiency of its use.

    One way they are doing this is through reforming JP-8 so that it can be used in efficient portable energy systems, like fuel cells and other novel power sources, which primarily operate on hydrogen or other cleaner fuels.

    “The goal is to take the logistic fuel that’s already all over the battlefield, that’s there and available to the Soldiers, and convert it to something that can be used in smaller and renewable systems,” said Steve Slane, RDECOM’s communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, Command, Power and Integration (CP&I) Directorate, Power Generation and Alternative Energy Branch chief.

    Engineers and scientists from CERDEC, along with RDECOM’s Army Research Laboratory and Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center are working to reform JP-8 and integrate it into systems so it can be converted seamlessly and locally.

    “Fuel reforming is one of those leap-ahead technologies that could allow JP-8 to be transformed into valuable fuels that can be used and generated on the battlefield forward. So instead of shipping propane and methanol and kerosene and gasoline, why not reform JP-8 locally to power those systems?” said Slane.

    The process of reforming fuel entails high-temperature catalytic reactions that covert a liquid fuel, in this case JP-8, into a lighter, gaseous fuel.

    Dr. Dat Tran, U.S. Army Research Laboratory electro-chemistry, is focused on extracting sulfur from JP8, or Jet Propellant 8, a fuel widely used in the Army. (U.S. Army ARL Photo/Joyce P. Brayboy)

    This comes with two main challenges because of the sulfur contained in JP-8 and its complex composition, said Dr. Terry DuBois, subject matter expert in fuel reforming and combustion in CERDEC CP&I’s Power Division.

    First, sulfur can deactivate catalysts, which means it can limit the life or poison catalysts during the reforming process and make it inoperable. Second, sulfur can accelerate carbon formation, where solid carbon particles form in the reactor, clog the flow of the reactor or deactivate catalysts and cause it to fail, said DuBois.
    “Those are two big challenges for us in reforming; how do we transform JP-8 to a hydrogen-rich stream and deal with the two mechanisms for killing the reactor?” said DuBois.

    This fuel transformation effort is a main focus for CERDEC, TARDEC and ARL.

    The challenge is developing a practical fuel reformation process for better energy conversion that would have to be portable, quick and easy to use, said Dr. Zachary Dunbar, an ARL fuel cell team member.

    Dr. Dat Tran, ARL fuel cell team lead, has tested at least 300 different combinations of materials during the last four years while he has been investigating fuel reforming with the team, he said.

    “JP-8 is a complicated and dirty fuel. The sulfur is a huge problem because it can hurt the fuel cells,” Tran said. “Sulfur has many different compounds that behave differently. The compounds in sulfur make it hard to find an agreeable material.”

    While ARL conducts the basic research of fuel reforming, CERDEC integrates the basic research into a system and evaluates it, while also performing further research and development of fuel reforming materials.

    The Reformer Test Bed is used for catalyst and process condition evaluation of fuel reformers. (U.S. Army CERDEC Photo)

    “Both of the efforts that we have ongoing are focused on addressing desulfurization of JP-8, and ARL is pursuing complimentary R&D on unique materials for sulfur absorption. In addition, ARL is looking at membranes that can selectively separate hydrogen from the gaseous reformed fuel stream so that you have a pure hydrogen stream,” said DuBois.

    “CERDEC’s in-house program is looking at catalytic materials. So we have ongoing research work evaluating different catalytic materials and how well they stand up to chemical compounds found in JP-8. We are also evaluating sulfur absorbent materials and processes on a long-term basis,” said DuBois.

    TARDEC also works in fuel reforming by integrating it into fuel cell power systems.

    “The main applications are combat and tactical vehicle Auxiliary Power Units, silent propulsion for unmanned ground systems and extending the silent range of electric vehicles for scout or reconnaissance missions,” said Kevin Centeck, TARDEC Nonprimary Power Systems team lead.

    “TARDEC is also investigating the requirements for a fuel reformation system to be integrated with a commercial automotive fuel cell stack, which could help reduce cost and increase reliability of fuel cell power systems,” said Centeck.

    CERDEC, ARL and TARDEC collaborate on their fuel reforming efforts for the Army through fuel cell test and integration working groups with other Defense Department partners through quarterly program and design reviews.

    CERDEC is taking fuel reforming one step further by working to integrate its efforts into its Energy Informed Operations, or EIO, initiative, which aims to make power systems “smart” by enabling “smarter” monitoring on the systems as well as integrating them into a smart tactical microgrid.

    This smart technology will enable and inform Soldiers with data such as, “How much fuel do I have left? When are the fuel trucks coming next? What’s my energy status?” said Slane.

    “The efficiencies gained by using grid data to control power and inform operations will increase availability and reliability of power while reducing the burden of fuel logistics, storage and cost,” said Slane. “CERDEC CP&I is uniquely qualified to cover all this because we have our mechanical engineers who are working fuel reformation and combustion but we also have engineers within the mission command community here working on intelligent micro-grids through EIO.”

    RDECOM will continue to work to address the challenges with fuel reforming and integrate it into a full power system that can then be transitioned to the field.

    “Reducing the amount of fuel is really a goal of what this organization is about,” said Slane. “Fuel reforming is one of the key technology areas that will enable us to reduce fuel on the battlefield, reduce the amount of truck convoys, the amount of storage needed and the cost of operating in austere environments.”


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  • Faces of the Force

    Template for Faces of the Force

    Mechanical engineer’s ‘shock’ing deployment

     

    By Steve Stark

     

    Neil Cooper is an engineer who spent several months deployed to Afghanistan performing power assessments of austere base camps in support of Project Manager Mobile Electric Power (PM MEP) and its effort to “right size” mobile power equipment. In an unusual twist, Cooper deployed while he was an intern in the TARDEC [U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center] intern program. ”I was told they do not deploy interns but after some research I found it was possible,” he said in an interview. Prior to his deployment, he had been working on modeling and simulation of expeditionary contingency bases.

    Cooper was working two projects, designed to “investigate the implications of changes to systems and how they impact the logistic system and the resource demands of bases. The CBI [Contingency Base Infrastructure] effort’s initial focus was on 50, 300 and 1,000-Soldier bases. We modeled and simulated changes to these bases to see what effect changes to base systems would have on resource consumption using a system-of-systems approach.” In a framework developed by Sandia National Laboratories, he said, “we modeled laundry, vehicles, repair parts, repair times, generators and any kind of system we could with scientifically sound data,” that could affect resource consumption.

    “You can have many different systems, [included in the simulation] run it thousands of times and get a picture of how resources are used.” In effect, modeling and simulation, Cooper said, helps to validate or invalidate assumptions using vetted data—a crucial step in the planning effort. According to Cooper, the practice could significantly aid acquisition decisions, no matter what the system, by helping to evaluate and inform requirements in every aspect of acquisition. Then, when acquiring a system, the program would have real data that the system would meet the mission. “After modeling bases on their own, we began to look at how the changes to the sustainment concept or one base affect another base with the JOEI [Joint Operational Energy Initiative].

    “At a JOEI meeting at Fort Lee,” Cooper said, “we saw an operational needs statement (ONS) stating that the way we do power distribution at contingency bases is inefficient, and there is a lack of a champion tasked with optimizing bases. I expressed to my supervisor an interest in working on this. I wanted to work on a project using my experience to directly improve things for the warfighter.” While he was working with JOEI, Cooper said, his supervisor was on a telephone conference in which it came up that PM MEP needed a volunteer to go to Afghanistan to help fulfill this ONS, “So I volunteered.”

    He got a week’s worth of training on “military generators, power distribution and environmental control equipment, and the software to determine the right sized generators and distribution systems you need along with the best way to hook them up,” he said. Then he went to Bagram, Afghanistan to help units quantify their energy consumption, and provide support in upgrading their assets from older commercial units to newer, more efficient and supportable military equipment.

    “… the thing that surprises me the most is how little the American public knows about our world. We are the largest employer in the world but most of the general public has no idea about what we do and how the government acquisition system works.”

    Helping units right-size and optimize their generation not only helps reduce logistics burdens, it also improves the quality of life for the Soldiers, Cooper said. The improvement in quality of life included replacing broken air conditioning equipment and sizing it correctly so it works like it should. “Reducing the logistics footprint,” Cooper went on, provides additional help to Soldiers because it “translates to fewer convoys transporting fuel and equipment, which translates to fewer to fewer Soldiers being placed in harm’s way.”

    In his position, Cooper designed plans for power, distribution and environmental equipment for expeditionary bases, including small special operations “village stability platform” bases that often support fewer than 50 people. Designing the grids, he said, means “determining the best way to design the power grids on expeditionary bases so that generators are used as efficiently as possible and all systems get the power they need.”

    FOTF: What do you do in the Army? Why is it important?

    A Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion, a heavy-lift cargo helicopter, delivers a replacement generator to a contingency base in Afghanistan. Throughout his deployment, Cooper helped units right-size and optimize power grids to increase generator efficiency and ensure all base systems get the power they needed. (Photos by Neil Cooper)

    COOPER: I support the force by providing engineering support to PM MEP, which is fielding the latest generation of tactical mobile electric power and environmental control units. These units are more efficient and supportable than legacy units that have been in use by the troops in Afghanistan. At many bases, equipment has been added and removed over time creating inefficient power grids with little attention being paid to the operational energy aspects of these actions. U.S. Forces – Afghanistan has recognized the issue and created multiple operational needs statements to address it.

    FOTF: What has your experience been like so far? What has surprised you the most?

    COOPER: My experience has been great and has taught me many things. As an intern and co-op, I’ve worked as a staff engineer in a program executive office; a program engineer for a product manager of a Milestone C program; an engineer on a Pre-Milestone A program; and in Afghanistan as power assessment engineer working directly with Soldiers and Marines in their operational environments directly supporting and improving their capabilities to operate.

    Stopping to reflect on this, the thing that surprises me the most is how little the American public knows about our world. We [the Army] are the largest employer in the world, but most of the general public has no idea about what we do and how the government acquisition system works.

    FOTF: Why did you go to work for the Army? What is your greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army?
    COOPER: I began working for the Army in 2010 as a co-op [in what is now the Presidential Pathways Internship program] halfway through earning an engineering degree. At a job fair, I met someone from TARDEC, and she asked me to send her my resume. Three or four months later the phone rang asking me to come in for an interview. They presented me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: “We will pay for the rest of your college and, also, if you do a good job, offer you a job on graduation.” At the time, I had no real grasp of how large the world of government acquisition was and, over the years, I’ve gained a great appreciation for how much our acquisition workforce is capable of accomplishing and how much we help the warfighter by developing and fielding so many different items that affect every aspect of his or her life and how we are always striving to provide better materiel support to the force.

    Cooper’s convoy travels through the Afghanistan terrain on its way to a contingency base earlier this year. Cooper visited several bases in support of Operation Dynamo to maximize energy efficiency, reduce the logistics footprint, and improve the quality of life for Soldiers.

    FOTF: What was your deployment like?

    COOPER: I deployed to Afghanistan from January to June this year. I was based out of Bagram for a couple weeks and then in the remote Paktika province from mid-January through the end of February. I went back to Bagram for a week before going to Camp Leatherneck in March through the end of June. In that time, there was a lot of bouncing around to small bases in the area. Volunteering to go, my thoughts were to do something like this while I’m young without any serious responsibilities at home.

    Before traveling to Afghanistan, the threat was a concern. While there is a threat present, it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Also, the living conditions were better than expected. I envisioned living in a tent and eating MREs, [meals ready-to-eat] but it was more like living in a bloc apartment complex at the beginning. It was interesting and a good opportunity to gain experience.

    FOTF: What was your most memorable day?

    COOPER: The day I found out the first VSP [village stabilization platform expeditionary base] power grid design-and-push package I created on my own worked. It’s kind of an architectural diagram of power, distribution and environmental equipment for something like a small campus. We sent it out to our guys and they would call every day and give us a status, and the design succeeded. That was a good day.


    • “Faces of the Force” is an online feature highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce. Produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication Division, and working closely with public affairs officers, Soldiers and Civilians currently serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines are featured every other week. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.

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  • Heftier unmanned ground vehicle offers more lifting, hauling strength

    The iRobot Warrior, using a tool on the end of its arm, is able to grab, lift and carry heavy items. The arm can lift up to 350 pounds and the Warrior can carry a payload of up to 150 pounds.

    By Robert Karlsen and Bob Van Enkenvoort

     

    DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. — A small car can’t pull a heavy trailer. Sports utility vehicles don’t have a compact car’s fuel efficiency. A perfect, one-size-fits-all vehicle doesn’t exist. The same goes for unmanned ground vehicles, known as UGVs.

    Soldiers use UGVs — such as the 40-pound PackBot or the larger, 115-pound TALON — to detect and defeat roadside bombs, gain situational awareness, detect chemical and radiological agents, and increase the standoff distance between Soldiers and potentially dangerous situations. Just as SUVs offer utility smaller cars can’t match, larger UGVs provide capabilities not available with smaller platforms.

    The 300-pound iRobot Warrior, developed in partnership with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s tank and automotive center, is a large UGV that offers more lifting and carrying power, as well as the potential for better dexterity to grab items or open and close doors.

    The Warrior’s capabilities combine that of a tank automotive research, development and engineering center-developed map-based navigation and those of the Warrior’s predecessor, the Neomover, which was larger than a PackBot and could perform several dexterous tasks with its robotic arm.

    WARRIOR HOLDS UP IN EXERCISES

    The development team evaluated Warrior UGVs in several live exercises and a real-life disaster response. In February 2009, TARDEC brought the Warrior to the cobra gold tactical exercises in Thailand for an assessment at the Marine Experimentation Center.

    “A group of Marines were part of the exercise and they tested the system’s mobility, communication-range capabilities, how well can it go up and down stairs and through corridors and hallways,” said Jeremy Gray, TARDEC Ground Vehicle Robotics research electrical engineer.

    At the exercise, the Army tested the Warrior with several infantry mission scenarios including: entry-point checkpoint, vehicle security, building clearance, cordon and search, route clearance, assess mobility and casualty extractions. The cobra gold evaluations were vital in helping TARDEC associates determine how to move forward with the platform’s development.

    “We learned that the systems needed some improvements before we could get them to a fieldable maturity level,” said TARDEC GVR Customer Support Team Leader Lonnie Freiburger. “There were some good data points that showed that if we continued to make S&T investment in mission payloads — such as manipulators, platform intelligence, power, vision and explosive and chemical detection systems — we could have a better product.”

    The iRobot 710 Warrior with APOBS provides warfighters with a powerful and rugged unmanned system that facilitates the deliberate breaching of anti-personnel minefields and multi-strand wire obstacles.

    Shortly after that evaluation, TARDEC received congressional funding to work with iRobot in the development of two Warrior manipulator arms in July 2009. The arms were required to weigh less than 45 kilograms, have a reach of 1.5 meters, lift a 50 kilogram object and move it 50 meters, drag a 100 kilogram object for 50 meters, dig 25 centimeters into the soil, and turn over a 50 centimeter by 50 centimeter x 4 centimeters piece of concrete. iRobot eventually doubled the lift capacity and extended the reach to 1.9 meters, increasing the weight to 54 kilograms.

    iRobot also developed a mechanism attaching an Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System, or APOBS, to the Warrior to teleoperate it into position and remotely fire the munition. The APOBS has two boxes with a line charge with grenades attached at intervals. An attached rocket is shot to lay out the line. The grenades on the line then detonate and clear a path for users.

    The APOBS is a fielded system, but must currently be put in place manually. Because of that, adding it to the Warrior or other tele-operated UGVs meant having to start from scratch.

    “Trying to take a system that was designed for that and adapt it and integrate it to a UGV was a great challenge because the technical reports and training manuals don’t have helpful information,” Gray said. “We had a lot of questions [regarding the APOBS integration] and asked the developers that made the training manuals, and they weren’t even sure. So it was a lot of: ‘Let’s see if this works.’ Luckily, we got through it all without blowing up the robot. It ended up being a success. We had a couple of close calls, but we learned a lot from that.”

    EXPANDING CAPABILITIES

    After those refinements were made, the team put Warrior to the test again. The congressional funding also allowed them to run more drills at the Navy’s China Lake, Calif., facility in November 2009, and then twice at the combined-arms live-fire exercise during 2010 Cobra Gold, outside of Chai Badan, Thailand.

    “It is a really big show. That’s when you have air and ground forces coming together from different countries. It’s basically one big exercise of one big assault. So you had air strikes and mortar rounds coming into an area,” Gray said. “The ground forces used the APOBS for the initial penetration, so the Warrior went up to the concertina wire, launched and blew that out of the way and then the ground forces were able to go in and complete the exercise.”

    Currently, one of TARDEC’s Warriors is undergoing final software testing. The other is at Re2′s facility supporting two small business initiatives TARDEC manages on semi-autonomous door opening and enhanced manipulation feedback. They are also being used to support Gray’s innovation project in developing a new gripper design.

    “Re2 is developing an enhanced intuitive control,” Gray noted “A lot of the manipulators don’t have real fine movement, and they don’t have haptic feedback, which is a type of feedback that goes back to the users so they have an idea of what is going on.”

    In that light, Re2 is building an end-effector tool kit for the Warrior arm with automatic tool- change capabilities.

    “On the end of your arm, there is some sort of tool — whether it’s a gripper, whether it’s a knife — that they have the ability to change out automatically,” Gray explained.

    In marsupial mode, the iRobot 710 Warrior carries a PackBot to approach, investigate and neutralize improvised explosive devices, while keeping personnel at a safe standoff distance.

    An assessment using the Warrior manipulator arm and the Re2 Modular Intelligent Manipulation and Intuitive Control was completed in December 2011 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Scenarios involved opening doors, getting through locked doors and finding a locked device. The tasks were also done with smaller UGVs without the tool-change capabilities.

    Engineers took a unique approach to gather information in terms of what tools to design for the system.

    “We went out to Fallujah, Iraq, when we deployed and took photos of all the tools being strapped onto the robots. This is the ad-hoc stuff that the user is putting on,” Freiburger said.

    It makes sense to have conformed hardware designs instead of the makeshift tools added in the field.

    “It sounds like there is an opportunity to leverage what industry is doing, but industry is a little different. They’re more focused on very precise tasks in a benign environment. We’re dealing with very complex environments. Our tolerances are a little more open than what they have to deal with.”

    Tools currently being designed include:

    – end effectors — grippers — for different style of doors
    – engineering tools for route clearance, diggers and trenchers
    – small pneumatic sledgehammers that can pick through the ground
    – wire rakes to pull command wire from the ground
    – window breakers to do entry control point type of jobs

    REAL-LIFE DISASTER TESTING

    In addition to the California and Thailand exercises, iRobot sent two PackBots and two Warriors to Japan after the March 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that left around 19,000 people dead or missing and damaged several nuclear reactors to the point of near failure.
    The PackBots were first sent into a reactor to gain situational awareness, where the investigation found radiation levels of 72.0 Sieverts inside the reactor’s containment vessel — enough to kill a person in minutes.

    Tim Trainer, interim general manager of iRobot’s Military Business Unit, said the UGVs stood up well to the conditions.

    “We knew going into the operation that Warrior was a very rugged platform, but we didn’t know how much of an effect the high radiation levels would have on the robot operationally,” Trainer said. “We’re pleased that Warrior has continued to perform unaffected in this environment.”

    Workers also outfitted the platform with an industrial vacuum cleaner to remove radioactive debris and further reduce radiation levels.

    THE RIGHT MACHINE FOR THE JOB

    Moving ahead, the challenge is building the right size robot for the job.

    “There isn’t a perfect robot,” Gray said. “Eventually, you’re going to have an arsenal of robots, and you’re going to pick the one that’s going to help your mission the best each day.”

    Today, Soldiers primarily tele-operate robots.

    “There are some intelligent features that vendors are selling such as scripts for movements, such as manipulation. Maybe you need to reposition an arm before it can go upstairs. You push a button and the center of gravity is recalibrated from the manipulator for all the payloads and now you can climb up the stairs. Maybe you have a user that is continually picking up objects so now you have a script for that task,” Freiburger said. “We know we want to reduce the cognitive load of our warfighters and eventually be a force multiplier.”

    For now, engineers are working on augmented teleoperation to improve the operational tempo in any way possible, and continue the quest for improved autonomy and dexterity.

    “A robot is an enabler,” Freiburger said. “We’re constantly working on improving the touch, senses, and other ways of communicating and understanding our environment. [We're] trying to make the robots more like humans in any way possible.”

    ABOUT TARDEC

    TARDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

    RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.


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